Updated: Wednesday, February 28, 2018, 8:04 AM
Rachael Honowitz Cosgrove combs through Pinterest, pores over celebrity Instagram posts, watches all things E!, and delights in witty banter with the CEOs of the coolest up-and-coming brands so that this weekend — Academy Award weekend — A-listers’ gift bags will be filled with all the right swag.
Cosgrove, 37, is queen of red-carpet celebrity gifting.
The Lafayette Hill native founded the Los Angeles company Gift Bags by Rachael. And starting Thursday, Cosgrove’s curated Nike totes will land on the glitzy party tables and in the hotel rooms of La La Land’s most beautiful people.
First stop, Essence magazine’s 11th annual Black Women in Hollywood celebration. Cosgrove is responsible for the 375 beige Nike totes packed to the brim with Alex & Ani bracelets, Bulletproof Coffee, and blank cards from the black-owned stationery company She’s Got Papers among many, many other things.
Other Academy Award-related events that will have Gift Bags by Rachael include the IMDb Live Viewing Party, where Cosgrove oversaw 400 gift bags filled with everything from comfy Bombas socks to Philly’s La Colombe coffee to Philosophy cosmetics. She’s also part of the wildly popular Style Lounge at the ritzy Andaz West Hollywood hotel, where two of her clients — Samba Sol (think of them as the new Havaianas flip-flop) and German skin-care company Babor — will have a notable presence.
And she’s partnered with Hollywood Swag Bag to get a handful of her chicest clients, including wine from LaChance Vineyards, into 50 VIP celebrity rooms at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Swag bags are an integral part of the celebrity red-carpet experience. The famous people get free stuff, and cool companies get their products into the hands of the rich and influential. While the red carpet event planners take credit for introducing celebs to the latest in seemingly random items like bottled water or chewing gum.
“I am partnering the brands with best-in-class events,” Cosgrove said. “It’s all about putting brands in front of influencers. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Gift Bags by Rachael works like this: She has two kinds of clients — the companies that hire her to assemble bags for their the posh parties, and the products that want be featured in the bags. Cosgrove has a database of around 2,000 brands she works with that pay her a sliding nominal fee to get their goods in the mix.
In addition to bags by Nike, she packs her goodies into want-to-be-seen-on-the-street LeSportsac and Herschel knapsacks, and even L.L. Bean bags. She tries to keep the items to under $600 for tax purposes — gifts of more than $600 must be reported. When the bags get really expensive, it means she’s paired with another company that is giving out experiences, like an all-inclusive spa vacation.
“The best part of my job is finding the cool new things and doing the research,” Cosgrove told me. She’s spent the previous two weeks finalizing exactly what was going into the bags of her Oscar weekend clients and ensuring that her fulfillment centers — she works with three regularly — had all they needed to create sweet swag success. “It’s always so much fun, and there is always a new challenge.”
Though this coming weekend is by far Cosgrove’s busiest of the year, she’s been stuffing since September, the official beginning of red-carpet season. She doesn’t do just awards shows — although she works Grammy and Emmy weekends. Recently, she put together 500 gift bags to help promote the Season Two premiere of NBC’s hit tearjerker This Is Us. The bags were sent to cast members, celebrity fans, influencers, press, media partners and included — get this — a bottle of wine from California’s Pearson Bros. Winery. Is this perfect, or what?
So how did Honowitz land on her own little island of glam job perfection?
After graduating from Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School in 1998, Cosgrove went to Washington University in St. Louis, where she triple-majored in marketing, finance, and international business.
In 2002, she landed her first job, as an assistant at People magazine, and worked her way up to associate director of event marketing, where she got her start making gift bags for People’s fancy schmancy parties, including the SAG Awards. She became so good at it that other magazines in the Time Inc. family started asking for her services — she began assembling Fortune Magazine’s 40 Under 40 gift bags. She got so good at it that she started charging, and she started her own side business.
Honowitz moved to Los Angeles and joined a hospitality company as a high-level executive, taking her side hustle with her, expanding her reach from publishing to the entertainment industry. Gift Bags by Rachael is now her full time job.
In the 13 years Cosgrove has been in the celebrity gifting business, she’s seen it morph from a focus on luxury — like Cartier watches — to everyday fabulousness focused on wellness. For example, she says, RX energy bars and juices from Pressed Juicery are big winners.
Another change: Thanks to social media, Cosgrove doesn’t to have to get her items on the pages of glossy mags anymore. It’s all about Instagram, so when a celebrity like Jason Mraz wears a shirt from her client Spiritual Gangster that he got in one of her bags and posts the picture on Instagram, that’s a big deal.
“These are the coups you are going for,” Honowitz said. “These are why these brands are willing to give me hundreds of items. It’s the best form of product placement.”
She gets excited when she’s able to help local businesses, like La Colombe, and entrepreneurs like Michael Dubin, the Bala Cynwyd-bred businessman who started the Dollar Shave Club.
She’ll get a breather after Oscar weekend, but then the gifting keeps going. In April, Cosgrove will partner with Westwood One to curate the backstage gift bags at the Academy of Country Music Awards. In the fall, Cosgrove will orchestrate the gift bags for the Philadelphia Film Festival.
“I love what I do. It gives me the chance to have some flexibility in my life,” Cosgrove said. “The next step for me is about giving back. Let’s face it, I’m in the business of giving things to people who already have so much there has got to be a way for me to help people who actually need it.”